Swedish author Carl Magnus Palm wrote an in-depth biography of ABBA. It goes beyond the superficial, sketchy books that appeared earlier. It took a Swede to penetrate ABBA this way. British and American authors could not do it. I talked to Palm on the phone when I was in Stockholm.

Carl Magnus Palm lets us know right away that behind the glitter of ABBA there were four troubled individuals. He attributes much of it to Sweden's geography. Nordic latitudes and prolonged darkness create a natural pessimism in Sweden. Even ABBA succumbed to it! Their photos show smiles. Their lyrics reveal anxiety behind the images.

Palm calls Bjorn the backbone of ABBA. Bjorn was studious from the outset. He was sharp and good with languages. His music helped him get girls. We learn that Bjorn lost his virginity in his early teens.

Stig Anderson, ABBA's future manager, guided Bjorn and The Hootenanny Singers through a string of albums in the 1960s. Bjorn differed from his band mates in that he wanted to write songs like The Beatles.

Palm goes into detail about the relationship between Frida's mother and Alfred Hasse, the German soldier who got her pregnant. "They threw off their clothes and went swimming. Afterwards, they made love for the first time on the beach." Frida was one of thousands of children born to German soldiers and Norwegian girls. Young Frida lived for music. Her first husband was a trombonist.

Frida was reunited with her father in 1977, and kept in touch with him for five years. She finally came to believe that he knew of her mother's pregnancy when he left Norway.

I wondered Benny came to write such music as that in Kristina fran Duvemala. He got it from his grandfather. His grandfather taught him the accordion and to play Swedish folk music. The pop music of ABBA was almost a diversion. After Benny became a father at 16, his girl friend got custody of their two kids. Benny joined the Hep Stars, a band known for its wild stage act. Like Bjorn, Benny felt the tug of The Beatles and began writing songs. He admitted that his lyrics were bad.

This book creates a broad context in which to understand ABBA. We get a sense of the four moving toward each other in space and time. Palm holds Agnetha's story back as if to save the best for last. She arrives in chapter 8 on page 112.

Agnetha was shy, and there was a daddy to contend with! The songs she wrote for Bernt Enghardt were about self-pity. Agnetha was so self-conscious and innocent as to be almost helpless. Bjorn and Agnetha became a couple in 1969. Palm informs us that it was not meant to be a smooth relationship.

Benny and Frida became engaged, "engaged" being a euphemism for having sex without marriage. Frida was jealous from the start, never believing that Benny could love her. Her low self-esteem was a problem! Benny and Frida took refuge in each other partially because both had abandoned their families.

As the collaboration between Benny and Bjorn continued, Stig began to think that the duo could write an international hit.

Benny, Bjorn, Agnetha and Frida began toying with the idea of singing as a group in 1970. By then, they were close friends. The did a cabaret act as Festfolk, a show so embarrassing that Bjorn was relieved it was not taped. The couples had doubts about living together and working together too. According to Palm, Agnetha went on the pill at 16. She and Bjorn married in July, 1971.

By 1972, Michael Tretow and Gorel Hanser were on board. The group recorded "People Need Love," the first real ABBA song. The decision was made to do only what they wanted, and 1973 saw them enter the Eurovision Song Contest with "Ring Ring." Frida's depression began to lighten, and Agnetha was pregnant. They were going international.

The Eurovision stood between ABBA and their breakthrough. They won it in Brighton, England, in April, 1974, with "Waterloo." Winning the Eurovision changed everything. Offers poured in! It was double-edged. As Eurovision winners, they would never be taken seriously in certain circles. It did not matter. The contest was their only chance of breaking out. Stig cut a deal with Atlantic Records, and "Waterloo" was released in America. Reluctant to tour, they began making promo clips, stressing the group's image.

ABBA continued to make videos. From the self-titled album, videos were made for "SOS," "Mamma Mia!," "Bang-A-Boomerang" and "I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do." Director Lasse Hallstrom made the most of what he had, zooming in on the girls' faces and showing two members with one face in profile. He encouraged eye-to-eye contact with viewers. The clips had an enormous impact in Australia where Mamma Mia! was number one for 10 weeks. The demand for ABBA in Australia was so great that the four flew down in March, 1976, for a TV special. There was a kind of ABBAmania with teenagers congregating in airports. Palm observes that ABBA occupied a parallel universe to the rest of the pop/rock world. Meanwhile, "Fernando" became a massive hit with "Dancing Queen" waiting in the wings. Bjorn talked about "Knowing Me, Knowing You." He envisioned a man walking through an empty house. He had never been through a divorce, but given the differences between him and Agnetha and their tendency to quarrel, the song was a premonition. The Arrival album was their first peak!

ABBA used television as a key to the world. They taped ABBA-DABBA-DOO! They flew to Poland. With this broad popularity, Bjorn and Agnetha began drifting apart. They had a second child, thinking it might keep them together.

Europe was the first leg of the 1977 tour. ABBA had major fame by this time. In cities like Berlin and Copenhagen, adoring fans were a nuisance. The four were confined to hotel rooms. Palm points to growing tension between the couples while the press exaggerated differences between Agnetha and Frida. There was a natural competition between the women for the best songs and for attention on stage but apart from that, there was no antipathy. The women knew their success was the result of combined efforts.

For the tour, Benny and Bjorn conceived a mini-musical called The Girl With The Golden Hair. It consisted of "Thank You For The Music," "I Wonder (Departure)" and "I'm A Marionette." This was a clue to the path Benny and Bjorn would ultimately take with their CHESS and Kristina musicals.

ABBA flew to Australia with the idea of making a movie around the concerts. The two weeks in Australia were pandemonium! Palm's frenzied account makes good reading. Hallstrom directed the movie, much of which was improvised while filming.

Back in Stockholm, ABBA-The Album was completed. Palm singles out "One Man, One Woman" and sees it as Bjorn's confession of what it was like living with Agnetha. Agnetha is anything but likable in this book. She is sensitive and scared to the point of paranoia. She is self-centered and often sick. She whines and complains. She is fine as long as she gets her way but unbearable when called upon to make concessions.

There is a feeling of never being satisfied, disappointed by a lack of success and frustrated by the conditions success generates. ABBA wanted to be famous and have their privacy too. The lights are too bright, and the shadows are too dark.

They built their own studio, and "SummerNight City" was the first song recorded there. Despite Benny and Bjorn not being happy with it, "SummerNight City" is a pounding disco number reflecting its era.

Bjorn and Agnetha's incompatibility came to a head! She took the kids and moved out, Christmas day, 1978. The marriage was over, but at least there would be peace in the studio. It took Bjorn one week to meet his second wife.

Palm regards Voulez-Vous as ABBA's best album. It is disco! The picture on the cover was taken at the Alexandra discotheque. Palm used a photo from this shoot as the cover for his earlier book: ABBA: The Complete Recording Sessions.

ABBA toured America in September, 1979. It was a moderate success thanks to meticulous planning. Agnetha was isolated and homesick, although she and Bjorn got along and worked well together. Lena joined Bjorn in Los Angeles, an inspiration for the lyrics of Super Trouper.

ABBA took their show to Japan in March, 1980, for eleven performances, six of which were in Tokyo. It was the final tour.

The Super Trouper album comprises 10 masterpieces. "Lay All Your Love On Me," "Our Last Summer," "The Piper" & "The Way Old Friends Do" are superb! Palm calls "The Winner Takes It All" Agnetha's "best ever performance on record." She assumed the "abandoned woman" role.

Frida did the vocal for "When All Is Said And Done," a song suggesting the end of her and Benny's marriage. ABBA lyrics had become blatantly personal. The concert with **** Cavett is my favorite despite a lack of enthusiasm among fans. Palm notes the cold desolation of The Visitors. The end was near! They recorded "The Day Before You Came," the last song, in August, 1982.

As Agnetha began work on her solo album, Benny and Bjorn teamed up with Tim Rice to write the musical they long dreamed about. CHESS was based on the Bobby Fischer/Boris Spassky matches in Reykjavik, Iceland, and "One Night In Bangkok" became a big hit. I recall Karen and I seeing the video on TV. I thought it was stupid, and Karen facetiously asked me if I were going to buy it. I did not know that Benny and Bjorn were involved or even what it was. I had discarded my ABBA records and was trying to live the same kind of life as my parents.

Despite faults, CHESS refuses to die. Benny and Bjorn's complaint was that the story is weak. For their second musical, they adapted the classic novels of Swedish author Vilhelm Moberg. This is the story of the Swedish emigrants who came to the United States in the 1850s. Benny and Bjorn tried to get an English version to Broadway and finally got the music to Carnegie Hall.

The ABBA catalog resurfaced in the 1990s. Tribute bands sprang up. ABBA Gold and More ABBA Gold sold millions. ABBA shows poured into the U.S. on video cassettes. Mamma Mia! rose from the revival, and the stage musical written around ABBA songs became the world's biggest show and a major motion picture.

Judy Craymer, who worked on CHESS, conceived the idea of building a show around ABBA's catalog. Catherine Johnson wrote the story, and Phyllida Lloyd was chosen to direct. Three women for a story about a mother and daughter!

Bright Lights, Dark Shadows fleshes out the ABBA story. We anticipate a lot of Palm's revelations, but he is the one who took the trouble to put them on paper. His book reads like a novel. It is not fiction. It really happened!